Call it chutzpah. Call it brass. Call it big cojones. Or maybe just call it stupid. Whatever you call it, Microsoft’s imminent launch of its second generation of Surface devices, which begins in some locations tonight at midnight and most places tomorrow, is running smack up against Apple’s second big fall announcement tomorrow, presumably to talk about new iPads. It’s tough to call a giant company like Microsoft an underdog, but then when something like this gets scheduled you have to think that there is some pity that should be tossed Microsoft’s way. Then again, who thought this was a smart idea?
To be fair, I have no idea of the timing of things as to who planned what when. Apple has certainly been known for being ultra-competitve in the way it controls PR. But even casual observers of the mobile tech calendar would have known that October would be a potentially risky month to release new products, given Apple’s recent history.
Microsoft is about to lose any and all benefit it might gain from a product launch when Apple news takes over tomorrow. Early reviews of the two new Surface devices, The Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2, have already been published. (Check out some of them here, here, here, and here.) By and large they point out that the two new devices, along with the already released Windows 8.1 variants, do indeed offer improvements. But they also hint, suggest, and proclaim that these improvements aren’t enough to shift consumer thinking.
But then again, perhaps Microsoft is being a bit cagey and might be clearing the decks a bit. It almost feels like that old PR trick of releasing bad news on a late Friday afternoon, assuming that no one will pay attention over the weekend. This may be not be a Friday, but there won’t be much oxygen tomorrow regardless of what Apple announces. So the chances of Microsoft launch news getting lost are pretty good. And maybe Microsoft is content with that.
This second round of Surface devices was obviously planned around the time of the original Surface release, if not before. Microsoft rolled out the red carpet for that initial release, and the devices just didn’t capture the public’s attention. Microsoft had to take a huge loss on the original Surface RT when it didn’t sell. (See my review here.) And several heads have rolled at Microsoft after that initial release including Steve Ballmer’s and Steven Sinfosky’s. I’m sure there were other contributing factors to those departures, but this was to be Microsoft’s next big play. To say it failed is being kind.
And keep in mind that conventional wisdom thought we’d see an 7 or 8 inch variant of the Surface this fall. That has been pushed off until after the first of the year. Meanwhile, other Windows OEMs seem to be making some head way with smaller form factors. Could Microsoft be letting others plow new ground before making its move to a smaller form factor? A dangerous bet, but then these stakes are high anyway.
I won’t condemn the new Surface devices before they have a chance in the market, or I get my hands on one or two to try out. And I’m sure there are many who will find them useful and attractive devices. But from where I sit, it looks like Microsoft might have some new momentum with the release of Windows 8.1, but didn’t figure out a way to turn that to its favor with its device initiatives.
This is all speculation on my part. Either Microsoft is purposely pulling its punches on products it doesn’t have much faith in, or worse, given the changes that are happening in Redmond, there are more problems than poor leadership.
And who knows. I might just head out to the Oak Brook Microsoft Store tonight to check out the launch there.
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